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US, UK Block Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

With both the US and the UK potentially halting arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the kingdom is likely to lose its two largest suppliers of military equipment and armaments.

Rabat – Since the outbreak of the Yemeni Civil War in 2015, more than 7070 civilians have been butchered, with at least 65 percent of these deaths attributed to Saudi-led coalition forces. Added to this number are thousands more who have died from the horrific conditions resulting from the conflict, including malnutrition and disease.

Although it may have been Saudi troops launching the missiles which killed these civilians, the equipment used to carry out these attacks have primarily come as imports from the West, especially from the US and UK. However, weapon imports from these two countries may be coming to a screeching halt in the near future.

On June 20, government institutions in both the US and the UK decided to suspend the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future, with both countries citing concerns with human rights abuses in Yemen, among other things.

Meanwhile, amid escalating tensions with Iran coloring the ongoing Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, the decisions have threatened the kingdom with losing its two largest arms suppliers, as both the US and UK remain divided over selling arms to a regime responsible for perpetuating bloodshed in Yemen.

America’s divided branches

In the United States, debate and controversy arose last month when American President Donald Trump bypassed Congress to push through an $8 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

Arguing that escalating aggression from Iran constituted a national emergency, Trump insisted that the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, one of America’s strongest allies, was a matter of extreme urgency, giving him the authority to approve the sale without Congressional consent.

However, the move sparked widespread backlash on Capitol Hill, with legislators criticizing the president for his seemingly unconditional support for a regime complicit in the deterioration of human rights in Yemen.

Several members of Congress also voiced their suspicion of Saudi Arabia due to the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by Saudi agents last year in October.

This view was corroborated earlier this week, as a UN investigation concluded that there was “credible evidence” that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, and other high ranking Saudi officials were involved with the murder.

As a result, the US Senate passed – along bipartisan lines – three resolutions to prevent the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.

In response, Trump has threatened to veto the Senate decision, which would allow for the sale to continue as planned and give Saudi Arabia a substantial boost to its military strength.

In a statement, the White House said that preventing the weapons deal “would send a message that the United States is abandoning its partners and allies at the very moment when threats to them are increasing.”

Each of the three resolutions passed by very narrow margins, ranging from 53-45 to as narrow as 51-45. Therefore, it is unexpected that any executive veto could be overridden by Congress.

An Un-United Kingdom

Right alongside the US in propping up Saudi military strength is the UK, which has sold more than $5.9 billion in military equipment to the kingdom since the outbreak of conflict in Yemen.

Overall, 40 percent of British arms exports are destined for Saudi Arabia, where they are primarily used for the kingdom’s ongoing campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, making trade with Saudi Arabia an essential element of the British arms industry.

However, recently there has been a substantial outpour in opposition to Saudi Arabia within the UK, with the Labour and Liberal Democratic Parties both calling for an immediate end to arms sales with Saudi Arabia alongside thousands of activists echoing these calls.

“No matter what atrocities it has inflicted, the Saudi regime has been able to count on the uncritical political and military support of the UK,” said Andrew Smith, a spokesman for the activist group Campaign Against Arms Trade.

“The bombing has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”

As the US Senate voted to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia, activists in the UK celebrated a major victory, with the prospects for the UK to continue selling arms to Saudi Arabia being challenged by British judges.

Under UK trade legislation, military equipment cannot be sold to a foreign country if there is a “clear risk” that the armaments could be used in a “serious violation of international humanitarian law.” However, despite the thousands of bodies lining the streets in Yemen, the UK has continued to sell weapons to the Saudi regime.

Presiding over the Court of Appeals in London, Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton, the second-most senior judge in the UK, said that the government “made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past, during the Yemen conflict, and made no attempt to do so.”

As a result, the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox promised that the government would not issue any new export licenses to Saudi Arabia and its coalition allies for the foreseeable future.

With the decision, Saudi Arabia has potentially lost its two largest suppliers of armaments, especially advanced armaments such as drone equipment and precision-guided rockets.